Reports released days apart in early September 2014 painted a gloomy picture of North America’s birdlife. One describes our birds today; the other forecasts the effects that human-caused climate change will have in the years to come.
State of the birds
The first, the State of the Birds 2014 report, came from the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a 23-member partnership of government agencies and organizations dedicated to bird conservation.
Using population data gathered between 1968 and 2012, it listed 233 species — more than 30 percent of all of North America’s breeding birds — that are either endangered now or at risk of becoming endangered without significant conservation.
The list includes more than half of all U.S. shorebird species, including Piping Plover, Long-billed Curlew, and Red Knot, as well as 42 pelagic species, 30 Neotropical migrants, and 33 Hawaiian forest species, 23 of which are already listed as endangered.
Northern Bobwhite, Grasshopper Sparrow, Bank Swallow and 30 other species, write the authors, did not meet the criteria for inclusion on the Watch List but are declining rapidly.
Birds and climate change
Scientists from National Audubon prepared the second: Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change report. They paired years of data from Christmas Bird Counts and Breeding Bird Surveys with models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for 588 species and identified no fewer than 314 that are at risk from climate change.
More than half, 188 species, will lose over half of their current range by 2080, Audubon says. The remaining 126 species, called climate-endangered, will lose more than half their current range even sooner — by 2050.
The ranges of these birds, write the researchers, are not only shifting but also shrinking dramatically. “Some bird species will be able to adapt to new climatic conditions, but certainly not all,” Audubon concludes. “If we stay on our current carbon-spewing path, some of those species will have nowhere to go.”
Audubon president David Yarnold provided historical perspective in the October issue of Audubon: “In the 19th century the threat to birds was the plume trade. In the 1960s it was DDT. In the 21st century it is climate change,” he wrote.
Download the reports
North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C. 16 pages (PDF).
National Audubon Society. 2014. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners. National Audubon Society, New York. Contributors: Gary Langham, Justin Schuetz, Candan Soykan, Chad Wilsey, Tom Auer, Geoff LeBaron, Connie Sanchez, Trish Distler. Version 1.2 (PDF).
A version of this article appeared in “Birding Briefs” in the December 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.